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Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review

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Ontarians have told us they want healthy, sustainable and vibrant communities that are well designed to meet people’s needs for daily living throughout an entire lifetime. To achieve that goal, we need to develop dynamic communities that provide convenient access to an appropriate mix of jobs, services, public facilities and a full range of housing to accommodate a range of incomes and household sizes, while also preserving and protecting green spaces, farmland and ecologically sensitive lands and waters. 

The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (GGH), the Greenbelt Plan, the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan and the Niagara Escarpment Plan are four provincial land use plans that work together to manage growth, build complete communities, curb sprawl and protect the natural environment. These plans support agriculture and promote economic development in Ontario’s Greater Golden Horseshoe.

As Canada’s largest economic engine, the Greater Golden Horseshoe is also one of the fastest growing regions in North America. It contains some of Canada’s best farmland, valuable water resources, and world-renowned natural features like the Niagara Escarpment.

The Co-ordinated Land Use Planning Review

A co-ordinated review of the four plans began in February 2015. In the past two years, the province has:

  • Held three rounds of public consultations 
  • Established an advisory panel chaired by former Toronto Mayor David Crombie that put forward 87 recommendations to improve and update the plans
  • Held 29 open houses and workshops across the GGH and the Niagara Escarpment Area attended by more than 4,600 people 
  • Reviewed more than 42,000 written submissions
  • The province engaged with the region’s First Nations and Métis communities.

Updated Plans

The updated plans were released on May 18, 2017.


Highlights of the Plans

Building Complete Communities 

  • Adding more direction in the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe on the objectives of a complete community: supporting health and wellbeing, high-quality compact built form with open spaces, access to local food and a mix of housing options for all incomes and household sizes.
  • Further curbing urban/suburban sprawl by increasing the intensification target and raising densities in Designated Greenfield Areas, while allowing for some flexibility in these targets to recognize unique circumstances of some communities.
  • As of 2031, the intensification target will be increased to 60 per cent of residential development annually directed to delineated built-up areas. At the next municipal comprehensive review, to be completed by 2022, municipalities will be asked to achieve an interim intensification target of 50 per cent. 
  • The Designated Greenfield Area density target of 80 residents and jobs combined per hectare would apply to new lands designated in the future. An interim Designated Greenfield Area density target of 60 residents and jobs combined per hectare will apply, beginning in 2022, to the current Designated Greenfield Area. Alternative targets may be requested to the interim targets.
  • Requiring minimum density targets for major transit station areas along priority transit corridors and existing subways. These minimum targets are:
    • 150 residents and jobs combined per hectare for GO train service
    • 160 residents and jobs combined per hectare for light rail transit (LRT) and bus rapid transit (BRT)
    • 200 residents and jobs combined per hectare for subways.
  • Continuing to ensure that municipalities plan for enough land and a range of housing types to accommodate growth, directing it to existing built-up areas and where transit can best serve all residents and businesses.
  • Reflecting the needs of a growing region, new provisions will require municipalities to consider the appropriate range of, and unit sizes in, apartments, condominiums and townhouses to accommodate a diverse range of household sizes and incomes.
  • Introducing a new “prime employment area” designation to protect areas for employment uses that are land extensive or have low employment densities and require locations near or adjacent to areas, such as freight corridors or airports, including manufacturing, warehousing and logistics. Retail, residential and other sensitive land uses not associated with the employment use cannot be located in these areas.  Retail and office uses will be directed to areas accessible by existing or planned transit. 
  • Requiring all conversions of employment lands to non-employment uses to be approved by the province.

Supporting a Viable Agricultural Sector 

  • Aligning plan policies with the Provincial Policy Statement to provide for greater flexibility for the types of agriculture-related uses allowed on farmland.
  • Mapping the agricultural system across the Greater Golden Horseshoe including considerations for agricultural viability, and incorporating the system across all four plans.
  • Clarifying the requirements for agricultural uses in natural heritage systems to reduce the burden on the agricultural sector and support productive farmland.

Protecting Natural Heritage and Water 

  • Establishing Greenbelt-level protections for natural heritage systems — such as wetlands, woodlands and rivers — beyond the Greenbelt, with the province taking the lead in mapping those areas. Municipalities will be required to plan for and protect these systems in their municipal official plans.
  • Requiring that municipalities  complete watershed planning before planning settlement area expansions, infrastructure or major developments that could affect those watersheds.

Growing the Greenbelt 

  • Adding publicly owned lands in 21 major urban river valleys and associated coastal wetlands to the Greenbelt.
  • Adding five parcels of land identified by the City of Hamilton, the Region of Niagara and the Town of Halton Hills to the Protected Countryside of the Greenbelt.
  • Introducing a new policy in the Greenbelt Plan that speaks to the potential for the province to consider opportunities to grow the Greenbelt. The province will undertake a process, including public consultation, to expand the Greenbelt on the outer edge in the near future.

Responding to Climate Change

  • Requiring municipalities in the Greater Golden Horseshoe to include climate change policies in their official plans.
  • Requiring municipalities to develop storm water management plans and conduct climate change vulnerability risk assessments when planning or replacing infrastructure.
  • Encouraging municipalities to develop greenhouse gas inventories, emission reduction strategies, and related targets and performance measures.

Planning for Infrastructure 

  • Providing municipalities clearer direction  for a more integrated approach to land use and infrastructure planning.
  • Providing more specific direction to municipalities to better protect corridor lands reserved for future goods movement (rail or road) and other future infrastructure, such as hydro or utility lines.

The government has also made minor Greenbelt boundary adjustments to address mapping accuracy, align with municipal official plans and existing urban boundaries, and respond to landowner requests. The Niagara Escarpment Plan land use designation maps have also been updated to refine boundaries using the latest land data and improved Geographic Information Systems. 

Next Steps

The Niagara Escarpment Plan (2017) will come into effect on June 1, 2017. The Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe (2017), the Greenbelt Plan (2017), the Greenbelt Boundary Regulation and the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan (2017) will come into effect on July 1, 2017.

Once in effect, all decisions on planning matters must conform or not conflict with the four plans. Municipalities are expected to review and update their official plans to conform with the updated plans. Upper- and single-tier municipalities’ conformity work is to be completed by 2022.

To support municipalities, the province has committed this year to:

  • Provide information sessions for municipal staff and stakeholders to familiarize them with the updated plans and explain how they will be implemented
  • Identify and map a region-wide natural heritage system 
  • Collaborate with stakeholders to develop an agricultural system that supports the viability of the agri-food sector and consistently protects farmland across the Greater Golden Horseshoe
  • Develop a standard land needs assessment methodology
  • Develop guidance on watershed planning and on addressing climate change